2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Fills in a GT350-Sized Gap

Nelson Ireson
·6 min read
Photo credit: Ford
Photo credit: Ford

Ask 100 track-driving enthusiasts what the perfect track car is, and you're likely to get 100 different answers. Despite living in the shadow of the 760-hp Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 deserves consideration, especially if your track car needs to be a daily driver. Named for the Mach 1 special editions of the past, the new Mach arrives this spring and is best thought of as the former Mustang Bullitt with a number of track-focused parts, many of which are borrowed from the discontinued GT350. Ford goes so far as to bill the Mach 1 as the most track-capable 5.0. Ford invited us to Willow Springs International Raceway to test that claim, and we learned that although the Mach 1 isn't perfect, it's fast, it handles surprisingly well, it's comfortable enough for a commute, and it looks pretty cool, too.

Answering the call to speed is a 480-horsepower version—20 more than the standard GT—of the port- and direct-injected 5.0-liter V-8 from the Bullitt. Unlike the Bullitt, the Mach 1 utilizes Tremec's TR-3160 six-speed manual transmission borrowed from the GT350 instead of the GT's Getrag-built box and will also offer a 10-speed automatic ($1595) that wasn't available in the Bullitt. For drivers still perfecting their craft, the Mach 1 features rev-matching downshifts—purists will be happy to know it can be shut off. Those looking to squeeze a tenth out of their times will like the six speed's no-lift shift feature that allows you to keep the accelerator pinned during shifts.

Photo credit: Ford
Photo credit: Ford

The Mach 1's suspension is bolted to the former GT350's front and rear subframes and features Ford's latest spec of magnetorheological dampers, which offer three modes to match the powertrain settings of Normal, Sport, and Track. Even in Normal mode, the Mach 1 feels responsive and sporty, while still comfortable and composed. Drive the worst roads in your area and you'll feel the Mach 1's inherent track-readiness, even in base form, but even then, the ride quality is nothing to moan about. Sport is great when you want more responsiveness on the street, but the real fun with the Mach 1 happens in Track mode.

To select Track mode, tap up on the driving-mode switch until the digital instrument panel displays a large, horizontal tachometer. A stability-control light illuminates to indicate that it is more permissive. Traction control can be turned off separately or left on; leaving it on doesn't seem to get in the way of a good corner exit, so why not save yourself some money on tires?

Ford limited our drive of the $3500 Handling Package-equipped Mach 1s to track duty. At Willow the first thing you'll appreciate is the surge of torque transitioning to strong, steady power as you rip through the gears. The manual's no-lift-shift feature makes easy work of rapid-fire upshifts on a long straight, and the rev-match feature works perfectly as you ratchet back down into the braking zone. Turn in and you'll notice the improved feel and precision of the Mach 1's steering compared to the Mustang GT's, courtesy of the stiffer intermediate shaft in the steering column and re-tuned electric power steering. You may even find you don't need to turn the wheel all that much as the Mach 1 rotates gracefully as you lift off the gas or trail off the six-piston Brembo calipers gripping Handling Package's the 15.0-inch front rotors.

Photo credit: Ford
Photo credit: Ford

So far so good. But now it's time to get out of that corner and off to the next. As you begin to send power to the Handling Package's sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber transplanted from the Shelby GT350R, the attitude initially tends toward understeer rather than oversteer, something that the GT350R didn't do. According to the Mach 1's chief engineer Carl Widmann, that trait is due to a combination of the integral link rear suspension design and bushing compliance within the suspension, which cause the Mach 1 to dynamically toe-in the rear wheels when acceleration compresses the rear suspension. This gives the Mach 1 a stable feel, but also means you'll want to adjust your line slightly to plan for that initial understeer.

With the Handling Package, the Mach 1 is a largely neutral, easy-to-drive, very fast track car. Even running nearly non-stop for more than two hours, issues with brake fade or engine and transmission overheating were non-existent. All Mach 1s come with additional underbody ducting to cool the brakes, engine- and transmission-cooling upgrades, and a rear-axle cooler borrowed from the GT500.

For those who pride themselves on the multi-tasking macarena of three-pedal track driving, the 10-speed automatic isn't as engaging, and it lacks the manual's TORSEN limited-slip differential, but it's at least as fast, and it lets you focus more of your effort and attention on actually nailing the lap. The paddle-shifters are a handy feature, but not necessary, even for track use; the automatic's algorithm is smart enough to call up the right gears for corners and hold them.

Photo credit: Ford
Photo credit: Ford

Ford offered the non-Handling Package cars for street use. On the street, the base car's handling traits aren't palpably different from the Handling Package car, aside from slightly lower overall grip levels offered by the narrower Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. Still, the limits are very high, it's quick off the line, confident when cornering, and makes easy work of high-speed cruising.

Details like the fighter-jet gray paint (a Mach 1 exclusive), retro-themed Mach 1 logos on the fenders, low-gloss stripes on the hood and sides, a 3D-mesh shark-nose grille, and a rear diffuser borrowed from the Shelby GT500 balance nods to Mach 1s of the past with modern style and aerodynamics. Base versions ride on 19-inch wheels, 9.5 inches wide at the front and 10.0 inches wide at the rear that are shared with the Mustang GT with the Performance Package. For those keeping track, the Mach 1 replaces the Performance Pack Level 2 (PP2) for 2021. Those larger wheels hint at the more-than-a-Mustang-GT potential that lies beneath the surface, but Handling Package models are further distinguished by inch wider wheels, an extended front splitter, and Gurney-flapped rear spoiler.

Adding that Handling Package adds $3500 the Mach 1's $53,915 base price, or $11,840 more than the cheapest way to spec last year's PP2 . Not exactly cheap, but it may strike just the right choice for those who missed out on the GT350 and are looking for a car that will let them hone their track skills without building a new wing onto the garage or taking out a second mortgage. And it does look pretty cool, too.

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